Monday, August 22, 2011

Bracha H'shem. GruB Gott. Pagpalain ka ng Maykapal. Ojigi.

There is a certain way a body orients itself in space when the owner of that body is a God-loving and a God-fearing soul irrespective of his or her religious persuasion.  Such a person is always aware of the Presence of the Holy in the Universe and as such, one's posture, clothing, health, speech, mannerisms and attitudes reflect a reverential stance at all times, vertically towards God and horizontally towards others.  Even those who deny the existence of God or those who live purely secular lives but are aware of a certain orderliness in a world that is good comport themselves in a maturity of mind and emotion.

Bracha H'shem.  Bless God.
One often hears this blessing many, many times a day in Chareidi country. Whenever someone mentions something good or optimistic or healthy or promising or positive, "Bracha H'shem" is invariably uttered.  It is a humble acknowledgment and exultation that all good things flow from a gracious and a provident God.  One's humanity can get in the way of one's best intentions because life invariably happens even in religious circles.  The religious does not want to dwell in unsavory, negative and traumatic matters.  One time we were driving by a scene of a MVA and Ari admonished us not to look.

GruB Gott.  Bless God or God bless.  Big God.
In the Salzkammergut district in Austria, there is a sleepy and quaint hamlet, Halstatt, hanging on the hills by lake Halstattsee.  I remember the evenings, while tourists mill about the small square and the locals are on their way home, the locals acknowledge anyone they come across with by greeting them "GruB Gott" accompanied by a gentle smile.  It was a sweet way of meeting the dusk in kindness.  I remember meditating about this over a glass of properly chilled buttery chardonnay while people-watching.  I felt like drifting in a soft cloud of Peace.  I was indeed a world away, in a world of unimpaired serenity in the early '90s.

Pagpalain ka ng Maykapal.  God bless you.
When the Philippines was much younger and much more innocent, the townsfolk were very religious.  When it was time for Angelus which was signaled by a peal of church bells, the Filipinos would stop in their tracks if walking or cease whatever they were doing and would recite the short prayer quietly while they stood still with heads bowed. This took place three times a day.  In those days, the country was peaceful and was a progressively emerging nation in Southeast Asia.

Ojigi.  A wordless tribute of respect and honor.
When my niece and I visited Japan we were met by my father's friends who conferred on us the deepest token of respect and honor.  They were in their 70s making us so much younger than them, yet they bowed to us as if we were royalty.  First they would stand straight with heads toward Heaven and their hands at their sides and then they would bend at the waist in almost 90-degree angle in an unhurried and a most solemn manner.  It was not all about us.  It was because of where we came from, from my father whom they worked with, together with other volunteers for peace and reconciliation from throughout the world,  in rehabilitating a devastated kindergarten school after  WWII in a small village in Japan called Sanage.  My father's family was ravaged by the Japanese, yet when he heard similar anguished woes from the war widows, he gave a speech of forgiveness which resonated with all those who heard it and reverberated all the way to our time. It was the beginning of healing between the two countries, meager though it was considering the strong currents of anti-each-other sentiments but it miraculously endured steadfastly into the present, thanks to this small band of men and women.  The Japanese like the other volunteers were religious and were adamant that Japan will not rear its military ambitions ever again.  They are a small group in their senior years and they who are still alive and well are presently working staunchly to stand by their commitment to a peaceable world.


The seven nights following the wedding night were celebrated in seven homes, one for each night, with rabbis, family and friends.  Ari sometimes scheduled them as the days approached with the heads of household usually a friend from the yeshiva or from the synagogue.  I believe others were spontaneous and inevitable like those of Orit's and Iyov's which I missed because theirs took place after I left for my return to the States.  Of the two I attended, I particularly warmed to the one hosted by Menuha's family because I have fallen in-like with them which could only be described as like-at-first-smile.   As such it was comfortable being with them which in and of itself was a grand blessing.

My first encounter with Menuha and her family was the day after we arrived from the States at a luncheon they hosted in a light and airy restaurant inside a huge mall in the heart of Chareidi country.  It was also my first close encounter with a Jewish family on this visit which has a purpose all its own.  As I vowed to do since I do not know what to expect I stood back and waited,  only to be greeted warmly in the manner I am accustomed to - hands extended for a strong hand-shake led by Menuha's father Yoel with ear-to-ear smiles that could not be more welcoming.  Oh! It was so heartwarming, which set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.  Menuha and her older sister Tzofiya are religious and were dressed accordingly.  Menuha's parents Sapir and Yoel, her twin brothers Tobiah and Meir,  Tobiah's wife Marni and Meir's fiancee Hava were self-declared non-religious and dressed more casually.  Tzofiya's husband and boys were dressed casually but were wearing kippahs.  Menuha and Sapir wore semi-causal ensembles.  There was also no separation of genders in the seating arrangement.  We ordered from menus which were issued in both Hebrew and English, the service was excellent and the food was exceptional.  The conversation flowed easily.  They were quite fluent in English.  Tobiah and his wife Marni who is expecting their first child in October just arrived from the States.  Tobiah trained for his work and after his training Marni met him in Chicago before they both flew back to the Pyrenees.  She is employed in PR if I remember correctly. They are young and full of excitement for life.  Yoel has a refreshing candor and a sense of humor that puts one at ease.  First thing he told me, "I just do what my wife tells me to do."  To which I replied, "You're a very wise man." Then he rebutted quietly with his mischievous wide grin, which his sons inherited and could light up a room like a starburst. On Shabbat Pinchas, he told me on a more serious note, "This is as new to me as it is to you.  I am learning just as you are."  It's always nice to have someone with kindred spirit.

My next encounter with the family was on the second Sheva Brachot which was held in their residence not too far from the Xelz Synagogue.  Marni was indisposed and Meir was working but Hava was there from whom I learned that Meir and her are traveling to Italy in a few weeks.  Part of their trip is to shop for her wedding dress in Milan for their nuptials in November.  I asked her how she could tell the difference between Tobiah and Meir who look identical to me but apparently they were not.  She smiled and said that their ears were set differently.  Also present was Sapir's brother Abraham and Yoel's brother whose name eludes me at the moment.  There was an official looking man who joined us who maybe a rabbi and who led the rituals.  The meal was served on two separate tables, one for men and another for women.  On our table, the blessing of the bread, salt and wine was done by Menuha who as usual was dressed stylishly.  One of my warmest memories of this night was being in the presence of Sapir's 86-year old mother Libi, dressed elegantly but not in religious fashion, who spoke only Esfaradit.  I first met her at the wedding.  Her fine needlework took pride of place on one wall of the home together with other art pieces. Somehow we were able to communicate, and very sweetly too. She told me in eloquent body language pointing to me then to her wedding ring and then to her heart which I translated adequately enough that she wished for me to be happily married someday.  She was the third woman in a few days to wish me the same blessing and I was moved by their affection. Shortly after dessert of scrumptious fresh fruits, pictures were taken and they asked me to join which was indeed generous of them.

Sheva Brachot means seven blessings.  They are praises and blessings to God, for the Universe and for the humanity He created, for the bridegroom and bride whom He brought together, and for happiness which also comes from Him.  This is my intuitive understanding of this beautiful rite.